Days 31-34: Erwin, TN to Elk River, TN

Total miles since Springer Mtn: 399 | Miles to Katahdin: 1790

As I was having breakfast at the hotel on my last morning in Erwin I was offered a ride back to the trailhead by a fellow thru-hiker (Snake). We have a certain look about us, even when our clothes are clean. Snake’s wife was in town and he was taking a zero, so they dropped me where the trail crosses the Nolichucky River and I started my ascent out of town.

Crossing the tracks leaving Erwin

 As far as climbs out of town go, that one wasn’t so bad. It helped that I received trail magic in the form of lemonade and banana bread at about the 8 mile mark. 

Trail magic 7 miles out of Erwin

After briefly enjoying the comfort of a trailside chair, I climbed up to Beauty Spot, which really lives up to its name. 

Beauty Spot

I lay down on the grass for awhile and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. Then onwards to Unaka Mtn and Cherry Gap. 

Unaka Mtn treetops

Unaka Summit

I’d planned a short 12 mile day but the campsite before Unaka was right on the road and we’re warned to camp at least a mile from road crossings. So up Unaka I climbed. I then thought I’d try and pitch on top of the mountain but couldn’t really find a site that provided for all my needs (i.e. a branch from which to hang my bear bag, a privy spot [though after dark this wouldn’t have been a problem], and ideally, from a place so high: a view). So before I knew it, I was down the other side of the mountain and walking into Cherry Gap Shelter campsite, making for a relatively pain-free 17 mile day. I guess those big miles were good conditioning.

We were due for a cool (and wet) change, so I walked a short 8 mile to the Greasy Creek Friendly the next day, and booked a bunk for 2 nights to ride out the worst of the weather.

Greasy Creek Friendly (that’s Moonshiner at the table)

Greasy Creek Friendly (left to right: Moonshiner, Lassie and Jah)

Cee Cee and I at the Greasy Creek Friendly

As the bad weather hadn’t hit yet, I arranged a ride to a point 5 miles further up the trail and hiked back to the hostel that same afternoon. I had a wonderfully relaxing stay at CeeCee’s place, watching the rain & whiling away the time with Moonshiner, Lassie, Spero, Jonny B Goode, Chinaman, Jukebox, Goose, Snake, Jah and Irie. Apart from my recovery day in Fontana, this was the first zero I’d taken that didn’t require me to find a computer and do work. It was wonderful. We marathoned 5 films and I caught up on my journal and some emails. I literally did not move from the couch (except to visit the kitchen and bathroom) for 12 hours. 

Hoping for clearer skies the next day, I set out for Overmountain Shelter, which meant a 2000 foot climb over Roan Mountain. Unfortunately, the mountain and subsequent series of balds were completely covered in cloud, so there were no vistas to behold for the duration of the walk. The mist was beautiful though. 

Roan Mountain

Faeries dwell in these woods… 

Brian Froudesque Wood Carving on Roan Mtn

The conditions were windy and foggy, rather than rainy, so walking was pleasant so long as you kept moving. 

I called and called ‘cross the windswept moors, but Heathcliff never came 😞 (though in truth, even if he had come, visibility was so poor atop that grassy bald that we could have passed within 50 yards of one another and never known)

Which I did. For the entire 12 miles. No breaks, no food, no water replenishment. Just continuous walking, in order to stay warm. I really need to develop a system where I stop to eat regularly throughout the day. I tend to set out early without breakfast, and am reluctant to break my stride until I get to camp (when I attempt to eat three meals worth of calories in one meal). But that won’t be sustainable in the long term. So I’m going to work on this over the next few days.

Overmountain Shelter is a beautiful converted barn. 

Overmountain Shelter

And the clouds were beginning to clear by the time I arrived there, with stunning views from the ridge down the valley.

View from my tent at Overmountain Shelter

It was apparently used as a backdrop for the film ‘Winter People’. It is a busy and popular spot for thru hikers, section hikers and locals out for an overnighter, so I pitched my tent, rather than brave the shelter crowd. The wind nearly took my poor little tent out, but a kind hiker assisted me with maneuvering it so as to better streamline it, working with the wind, rather than at cross-purposes to it. 
I also had bear bag trouble at Overmountain, having to cut my parachute cord twice as the tree kept stealing the counter-balancing rock that I was attempting to swing over the branch. The same kind hiker who helped me move my tent offered me some replacement cord, and when he couldn’t find it, another couple, camped between us, gave me some of theirs. The kindness of strangers 😊.

That’s Steve and Amy waving from their tents (and the other kind stranger behind them still busily searching for his parachute cord [which he later found]).


I met a sweet little girl at Overmountain Shelter who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old and was on her first overnight hike. She was having the time of her life (and would some day like to hike the A.T.) She came and asked to have her picture taken with me in the morning as I was packing up to leave. Unfortunately I didn’t think to ask her dad to take a pic with my camera as well.

The 15 miles from Overmountain shelter to Elk River were tough, in spite of what the map showed. Straight out of camp I had to ascend Little Hump followed by Hump Mountain. 

The view of Hump Mtn from Little Hump Mtn

Looking back from Hump Mtn

The view of Hump Mtn and Little Hump Mtn from some later point along the trail

Hump Mountain looked so daunting that I stopped for a meal break both before and after it. The sky was clear though, so I was able to take in 360 degree views from both summits. I also dried out my tent from the previous night’s condensation while I was up there. It only took about 5 minutes with me waving it around in the wind like a kite.
The descent was punishing on my feet. I have been experiencing intermittent excruciating pain in the toe region of my left foot since before the Smokies, and it seems to be increasing in frequency and duration. But I have strong painkillers, anti-inflammatories and ibuprofen, and have only resorted to the last one so far, and even then, only a handful of times. So the pain could be worse. And we’ve all got some form of pain, so most of the time, I tell myself to harden the #¥%& up, and walk through it.

Nevertheless, after the challenging ups and downs of the morning’s adventure, I decided to pull up short of the next shelter and pitch by the Elk River after a 15.5 mile day. I had the perfect site, all to myself. 

Solo tenting = awesome

Elk River Campsite

I think I’ll try to camp alone more often. There were some ominous sounds of crashing in the nearby forest in the night, but when I emerged from my tent to investigate, the sky was bright with stars and fireflies. How could anything threatening dwell in such a place? I continued to hear the odd crashing sounds as I drifted back off to sleep but felt safe in the knowledge that I’d hung my bear bag some distance from my tent. (And if there was a bear, it was clearly more interested in chasing fireflies than me.) There had been signs at trailheads earlier in the day advising that a shelter some 30 miles down the trail has been closed due to recent bear activity, and asking hikers not to linger in that 4 mile stretch, but that was still two days away.

Bear warning – duly noted. I will be hiking a solid 15-20 miles to get past this bear’s patch

I’d eaten by 5:30 and was in bed and asleep by 6:30, so my body was clearly in need of rest. And for the first time this trip, I was camped right beside a river. I was not moving! 

Resting after a looong day xo

Did I mention FIREFLIES?!!! 😍

2 thoughts on “Days 31-34: Erwin, TN to Elk River, TN

  1. Dear Lou, We are very pleased to see you looking so well and clearly having a wonderful time (as distinct from looking totally weary and/or buggered!). It certainly is a mighty trail. It seems that there are many more good and helpful citizens of the USA than there are turds!! Tho it is a little confusing when Snake seems to be a good guy… I have been delighted to see some photos of fishy looking rivers, but there seems no sign of an angler anywhere. Surely the occasional day tripper or overnighter would be able, or indeed keen, to pack some fishing tackle with which to take on the eastern brook trout of the region? Mum and I had a very pleasant week at the shack, but, alas, on the two fishing outings we attempted (both to Arthur’s Lake) we were unrewarded. (Sigh). Never mind, I’m getting about OK, and my haematologists pronouncement that my CLL seems to be in remission came as very good news (of course). You’ve probably already heard that from Mum. So we keep looking forward with optimism. Agfest is on next Thursday/Fri/Sat, and I think I may give that a visit, tho I may need to find a convenient wine outlet to sit at or near now and then. Keep enjoying your wonderful journey, with eyes peeled for bears and podiatrists (to check out your feet). Best love from Dad, Mum, and the rest of our friends and relies in Tas and QLD (where Steve and Shaz seem to be making a go of things). Ooroo

    Sent from my iPad

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    • Thanks Dad 😊. (NB I actually feel weary and/or buggered pretty much every day, but I also feel incredibly fortunate to be able to undertake this whole grand adventure, so the pros outweigh the cons every time.) Yes, almost everyone I’ve met on this trip has been lovely. I guess there have to be a couple of oddballs in the mix, if only for the sake of diversity ☺️. Great news about your bill of health – I guess that means things are looking good for your NZ trip next year? Great to hear all the fam (and friends) are doing well also. As for the appearance of unfished waters on the AT, my theory is that anglers probably seek a little more peace than is offered by those sections of stream that the trail crosses as there is so much foot traffic in these parts it would prove difficult to catch anything. I did shelter with a couple last night who had been given fresh caught rainbow trout from the passing stream about 40 miles back, so there are definitely fish in these waters! Love Lou xo

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